On a cloudy Saturday morning, I took a group of students through the world of natural night portrait photography. Our Natural Light Workshop has been popular as of late, and we added an extra workshop this month. And I’m glad we did, because this was an amazing group! We started off with an in class review of the exposure triangle, breaking down the importance of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Afterwards, we moved on to some essentials: lens choice, exposure compensation, and composition. Starting off with a strong foundation is always important, but the fun began when we stepped outside to photograph our model, Andon!
The photography gods had blessed with some nice overcast light. With soft light, we weren’t restricted to certain angles and positions to photograph the model. Instead of the usual light tests in sunlight, we started off by using our telephoto lens to compress the background. Having the natural light portrait class at Aperture Academy headquarters is a great teaching tool, as it shows students that great portraits can be achieved anywhere––especially if you had a telephoto lens handy. Students who used their telephoto lens were able to use the foliage of a small tree as their entire backdrop behind the model, while students who didn’t have a telephoto lens on hand had to improvise, shoot at a different angle, and get their background as far away from Andon as possible.
We then moved on to high and low angles. A great question was asked by one of the students: is it better to photograph our model straight on, at a lower angle, or at a higher angle. We discussed how angles are really subjective, and it depended on the feel you are trying to get from the subject. Lower angles tend to be more dramatic and will make the subject look more dominant and powerful, while higher angles give the more playful and innocent look. We demonstrated this by having Andon sit on the step in front of a fountain, and photographing him low to the ground. The result was this dramatic, almost fashion-like image.
When we moved onto head shots, I tagged Andon out and doubled as a model for this lesson. One of my biggest insecurities when I get my photo taken is my natural laugh. I tend to throw my head back and in turn, add ten pounds to my face. So we practiced the importance of having our model (me) tighten their jawline. I turtled my head out, feeling completely ridiculous, but the images came out so flattering! Sometimes the smallest adjustments make the biggest difference. (Note: I believe in this technique so much, that I actually asked my wedding photographer to remind me when I forgot to do it).
We continued to work on some extreme close-ups and then ended the day with understanding focusing on a moving subject. First was to know the difference between AF-S and AF-C (or One Shot vs. AI Servo for Canon users). While AF-S and One Shot was perfect for portraits, we wanted to change to AF-C or AI Servo when photographing moving subjects. The difference between the two is while the former focuses, locks, and then fires, the latter will continuously focus. The key when using AF-C or AI Servo is to track the subject, keeping them on the focus point at all times. Andon’s ankle wasn’t 100% so he did a light walk for us. The students also changed their release mode to continuous so they can just snap alway. I then tagged Andon out so they can practice on a more…unpredictable moving subject. I did some spins, jumps, and cuts––and much to my delight, the students still walked away with some sharp images!
Before I knew it, we took our group picture and then headed back inside for a debrief. I answered some final questions and then the students were off to practice on their own at home. I have no doubt that will continue to make me proud!
Until next time,
Mary and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.
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